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Nalinidhar Bhattacharya
Date of Publish: 2015-09-06

THE POETRY OF AJIT BARUA

Nalinidhar Bhattacharya

 

Ajit Barua, an eminent Assamese poet, was born in Guwahati in 1926. A recipient of several award including Sahitya Akademi Award and Bharatiya Bhasa Parishad (Calcutta) Award, he is recognized by the literary circle in Assam as a major poet who restored a kind of intellectual dignity to modern Assamese poetry. He retired from Indian Administrative Service in 1986. While in service he visited England and France, and used the opportunity to deepen his knowledge of modern English and French poetry. Barua started writing under the influence of prevailing romanticism, moved on to a radical revolutionary phase under the impact of the Second World War along with a batch of young poets, and then gradually adopted the Eliotean technique of modern poetry with subject matters more aligned to his early songs, romantic poems, poems with social concern, and it also includes his later variety of poems of density. It includes an early revolutionary lyric “Haturi” (The Hammer) remarkable for his compressed power and the rattling rhythm.

But this concern for squalor and decay in capitalist society and its soiled and banal humanity soon disappeared and he turned to T.S. Eliot and French symbolists for inspiration. Eliot’s influence on him was probably more direct than on the neo-romantics who only tried to imbibe the spirit of Eliot’s creativity based on imagist and symbolist tradition. According to Barua, his later poems are more mature than those written earlier, because of their restrained symbolic structure.

“Man-Kunwali Samay” (Mind-boggling Time) is short poem written in an imagist technique hinting about the idea of time as an aspect of individual lives or succession of generations, with strikingly picturesque images and literary allusions, he is thinking of a child who had a fear for his strict teacher who had asked him and his classmates to draw a map. The child in the poem is perhaps the poet himself, and his fearful memory of his childhood still hunts the poet’s mind. The very thought of fear makes time as an aspect of the individual life of the poet, who in later life experience the same type of fear. The allusiveness and condensed working of the poem demand unusual concentration from the reader.

“Dukhar Kabita” (A Poem of Sorrow) was written in memory of a brilliant young student who met his watery grave when a boat capsized. The poet here compares the strong current of the river with a tiger which devours the poor boy like Shakespeare, the poet realizes that ‘life is time’s fool’ and asks, ‘Whose fool is death?’ Finally, the sad reality brought by cruel death is coupled with a spiritual reality in which sympathetic tears of the onlookers turn in to pearls. As an elegy, the poem is undoubtedly a remarkable one in Assamese literature.

“Jengrai, 1963” is a poem where an introvert (probably the poet himself) seems poised on the brink of the discovery of reality from unreality. The poet had to spend a right at a confluence of rivers, Spending a right in a solitary place remote from human habitation is naturally a disturbing experience. He is a modern man with scientific knowledge and cannot pray to God or lesser gods to deliver him from anxieties and fears of the situation. To him, these are mere superstition. Yet he cannot remain without recalling these traditional beliefs in such a situation. This dilemma led him to a peculiar state of mind. Sleeping on the boat he is aware of the tiger’s roar in the nearby jungle, the sound of bells fastened to the neck of the buffaloes and at the same time he hears the music of the spheres and songs of water-nymphs. While fear of death tortures his spirit, vague spiritual musings also haunt his mind. The material world is here coupled with the abstract from which, like a schizophrenic, he could not free his spirit, towards the end of the poem; we see that, in the morning, two Indian skimmers begin to fly over the surrounding fog. This image gives us a hint that the poet is undecided and vaguely troubled. In this poem also, the poet uses allusions from various literary sources with extraordinary skill.

Another poem “Abanti Nagar” (City of Abanti) describes the poet’s spiritual adventures in a dreamy land under the sea, where the poet hears an unearthly music. There the poet finds only the light of love and nothing else:

No, there is neither twilight

Nor sunrise

There is nothing untransparent to be

Penetrated by light

There is no time either – because

Time is outside the time

There is only love

What kind of land is this? It is again bold and amalgamation of the material with the abstract. Perhaps it is the poet’s imaginative yearning for unadulterated love which is painfully lacking in the real world. This world seems to be named as Abanti Nagar, because, in another poem (Mandia River) the poet says,

Some illusions, some fear

Dust in spider’s nest

That is Abanti Nagar

Smeared with the smell of

Black pitch and raw coal…

It is to be remembered that the poem “Abanti Nagar” was written in Paris, when the poet was on tour. He may be hinting at the sterile, industrial life of the city.

Ajit Barua’s second volume of poems Brahmaputra Ityadi Padya (Brahmaputra and other Poems) consists of two long and a few short poems. In one of his short poems, the poet expresses his deep love for his motherland Assam and the world simultaneously, sitting on the bank of the river Seine in Paris. The language here is very simple and easily communicable:

I have loved Assam like a man

Obstinate and unyielding

My salutations to the universe

But I have loved Assam like a bumpkin

This healthy live for one’s own land is noteworthy, as it indicates that the poet is free from chauvinism and narrow nationalism.

His two long poems are “The Brahmaputra” and “About Schizophrenia”. The poem Brahmaputra is a visionary journey of the poet from the river’s source to the sea with a consciousness for the natural beauties, growing culture and traditional from antiquity on the river bank and historical developments it has witnessed up to recent times. The poet here feels that the Brahmaputra over comes all and fails in to the sea unabated. But man fails to overcome anything and never reaches the sea of a higher spiritual reality which overcomes all contradictions. The framework of this long poem is not an end, but only a means to re-establish traditions and to blend chaos in to a spiritual aesthetic unity. Repetition of the sentence ‘every system is a promise-killer’ speaks volumes for the chaos that man perpetrates throughout history.

The other poem “About Schizophrenia” is about the psychology of modern man who suffers from schizophrenia due to a complex environment characterized by squalor, decay and human folly. Schizophrenia is a mantel disease which leads to occasional thought-blocking. The man who suffers from such a disease remains alienated from society and his mantel horizon is clouded with sorrow, excitement and fatigue. The poet gives the idea of a man who suffers from schizophrenia in modern life. He also speaks of artists and poets, who are apparently healthy, but inwardly ailing from symptoms of Schizophrenia. In this connection, he brings in allusion of French poet Baudelaire, English stage-actor Garrick, and Matsyendra, a Buddhist Tantric of Assam, to show them to be schizophrenics. In another part, he takes two patients and a schizophrenic who was sentenced to death. The latter behaves differently when he hears the news of his death sentence. The poet in his long poem wishes to impress that modern man is a divided self. This dichotomy of personality is depicted on the verbal surface of the poem peeping in to the minds of different people with poet’s insight.

Besides being a poet, Ajit Barua is noted critic, essayist, novelist and translator. He has a deep knowledge of English French literatures. In his poetic endeavor, he seems to follow Eliot when he says that the poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into its meanings. This is the reason why his poems seem to be often obscure. He confesses that he writes for his own satisfaction. He is elitist by vocation; you may call him a snob also, because he can afford not to be loved by the common masses. Yet he is a true poet, who scorns power and pelf in his devotion to the craft of words.

( This article was published in ‘Masterpieces of Indian Literature -Volume 1 )

 

 

Few Poems of Ajit Barua

jengrai 1963

 

A little before it was dark

We fell into the Subansiri

And with a tinful of water from the Subansiri

We washed the bow or our boat.

We are superstitious –

Only,

If our superstitions had been blind without a hole in their blindness!

 

At night on an islet of the Subansiri8

We moored our boat.

(Will the guardian spirit of the islet watch over us?)10

 

Overhead are the stars

The music of the spheres plays in our buffaloes’ bells

And this – is this the terror in the bells

Of the buffalos scattering at the scent of t –h – a – t tiger?

The smell of eddies bursting, the smell of stars blossoming

The smell of eddies blossoming, the smell of rupees bursting!!!

 

Lying on the bow of the boat

One can see the mud and the stars at the same time

The tiger’s roar, the buffalo – bells, the song that mermaids sing

All play together in the discordant harmony;20

At midnight

At the last frontier of peering

Or, is it in the inner side of my pupils

Two fires come and go …. …. unceasingly

Fire of the will – o’ – the – wisp, sentry at the Death – god’s door

Otherwise, at the rising of the curtain –

That perhaps is the fire which will light my funeral pyre.

 

“Brother fire, be in this my hour merciful”28

“Oh! What fire–burnt eyes.”

“If you think over it Lilimai, in this life there is nothing”30

 

When it was morning we unmoored our boat

And

(To me it seemed all on a sudden)

Two ganga silanis began circle in the mist

 

Glossary :

Jengrai : The name of a river in the present Lakhimpur district of Assam. It is actually a combination of many tributaries of the Brahmaputra before it falls into it.

Line : 8 : Subansiri : The name of a river in the same district. Celebrated in legend and song. One of the rivers which might be having a confluence with the river named Jengrai already mentioned.

Line : 28 : “Brother fire ….. ….. …..” Attribute to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-/-1226). He is supposed to have said before an eye – operation. (in those days done by means of a burning iron – stick)

 

a jacaranda

In the darkness of the pre–dawn

Having lost my way

I sat down.

Overhead was perhaps a tree

A dark tree a black tree

A silken umbrella tree – like.

With the break of day I saw

A Jacaranda

Like a veil

Swaying in the wind.

 

A horse

A decked horse down – headed ….. ….. white

Goes round trampling the pupil of my eye

Like cotton wool, like foam like wood

Goes round

The motionless gallop graven on the eye

Goes round … … going round

And round.

 

I cut out my eye and kept it away in my hand

There I saw a decked house going round

 

Beat the battle drum the battle drum of my heart

You do not find the answer to the sum

Even if you conquer Lanka

Beat the battle the battle drum

The battle drum

 

of schizophrenia

 

There is a hill there

Which a fire-line has divided into two

A hill seen when you are awake while dreaming.

On one side the locks of a negro

Cut into steps, step after step after step.

On the other, smooth, soiled chalk

(Never say the fire of the mind will not cross the fire-

Line, for you do not know).

 

There is a river there

A piece of broken glass-

Wider even than vision.

Through the breach comes the vision of Ezekiel

The flowing – congealed course of the Valley of Bones.

 

On that river a snake – bird floats down

Its wings of stone submerged,

They come floating just below –

But apart.

When the snake – bird sees its face in that river

It sees the man – lions

In the echoes made of stone.

There I threw broken earthen bits.

They cut the top of the waves

If upwards is what lies towards the top of my head.

They went that way.

(As distant as the stars is the bottom of my mind)

 

“At whose voice do you smile – all by yourself?

It is a man’s voice or a woman’s?

What say they? What do they say?’

Yes, women’s voice …. …. Women’s ….. …..

 

With care did I plant my garden of weeds

And sowed the seeds of ulu31

At the mocking voice of the witch in the garden of weeds

My sleep is broken again and again and again.

 

A prison made by myself

Shadows and echoes…. ….many mockings

Shadow of the shadow fire, of masked men

And the call of the whirlwind …. …..

If I grope in the crack of the cave…. ….

Ah, on my fingers the darkness without end.

 

The spears of light… ….

Behind my neck…. …..

They do not come out they do not.

O my brother of some other birth

Ah, it is a thousand years

That the language I spoke had vanished from the earth.

 

On the ou tree has honey bee46

Built its nest of honey

O Father, pick me the honey

Bring me a seleng, with gold – thread woven flowers

I am going to my husband’s father’s house.

Fire catches my body – half from inside and half from

outside.

My dead mother inside me oppresses me

She is the black sun

(2)

There is a door in the middle of the only room that I have.

From time to time slowly

There I – someone knock which I do not hear.

I am surprised, I want to know

Who had knocked

(The bottom of my mind is as distant as the stars)

 

In the New moon of Ahar60

He becomes a tiger

That is what was ordained

-Written in the horoscope.

In the Saora tree will hang

The corpse of the tiger – man

In the soiled loin – cloth

The stain of semen will play

The ananda bhairava raga of death and copulation

In all the three octaves.

 

Night after night he eats men

But in the day unaware,

He who has fern leaves on his skin

At the beautiful river’s bank is seen.

He who sells amulets

In so many markets

Vanishes in the wide – middle tank.

 

On a three – lagged seat sit three monkeys

And do the exercise that life ordains

In solemn self – assurance.

They go on measuring, measuring, measuring

A lot of chaff

With a bottomless measuring bowl.

Do many, many kinds of addition, subtraction, square – root,

Pantomimes of having understood

And Making others understand

And down, fall down, fall down

Fall, rise, measure, understand, dance, fall.

But

Know nothing of the corpse of the tiger – man.

 

His soul is lost, his life – gourd, tree – soul is lost,

The key of the door of understanding is in the

clutches of his unreal self. He is wounded in a war of

phantoms. The prisoner without chain ran away from

somewhere which is nowhere – from the ghost of the

stilled star, From the wandering band of ghosts.

(3)

Ram, ram, ram, kham, kham, kham.96

Signals of various kinds

Each signal a great ritual – gesture

Full of the excitement before murder, death, copulation.

Matsysendra keeps his corpse under the light

Transposes his soul into the corpse of the king

The separation of the soul and the body

The body remains sinless? And the soul? Buried in sin?

Observance is free of matter.

Imagination is of the Void

Cerebration is dedicated to immobility

Liberation is the way of the wandering

Sphota108 , sound, letter, mantra

Birth – what use are these

What use is poetry

What is the use of meaning

Let meditation be of the unreal

Knowledge be of the indeterminable

Knowledge is birth, is ignorance liberation?

 

The body is a dark prison

The body is dead while living

The body is a corpse with feeling

The separation of the body and the soul

Is the bodiless spirituality of the observance

The body is the inner sanctum of the temple

The body is the image of the undivided whole

The body is the centre – point of consciousness

The source of all observance

The body is the great way of sensuous enjoyment and

liberation.

Bisan – the chariot of indra has two wings

Drawn by two horses

One looks upwards

The other pulls towards the belly of the earth’s inside.

(As distant as the stars is the bottom of my mind)

 

(4)

A white blackbird wants to take to the sea

But

Is afraid to come out to the doorstep

The poet worshipping loneliness

Is afraid of solitude

The celibate poet is attacked by syphilis

“Let us go to Cytheria

To the far distance and further

Let us voyage on the sea

Set sail, set sail,

To the shore of eternal joy”

‘But if, just as I fail to recognize my own face in the mirror.

I forget even the way back home?”

Absinthe, hashish and opium-intoxicated

The poet, worshipper of Satan, is assured in Christ

“However may you persecute my body

The otherness in me will not be touched

The one other that is within me

Will remain pure and unviolated.”

The poet, worshipper of absinthe and

Hashish and opium is insane and wandering

But is the bearer of correspondences.

 

(5)

The actor spoke to himself in his mind

Garrick, teach yourself to laugh in sorrow

And to weep in happiness. Garrick, in this

Greenroom joy and sorrow are not equal, nor is joy

Sorrow or sorrow joy.

Gesture, O great wayfarer,

The gesture of joy in sorrow and sorrow in joy.

And listen, the denial of the self is for the protection

of the self.

Garrick, the best time for murder is while you act out

a murder.

“I am the music while the music lasts”

“I am the accused I am the hangman

I am the knife I am the wound”

I am the listener,

I am the drum, I am the drummer

I am the music till the music spreads in the body

I am the poison; I am the joy of pain

I am the disordered or orderliness of dream and

imagination

Om. All is He.

 

Glossary :

Line 31 : ulu : A kind of reed or weed

Line 46 : ou : The tree Dilennia indica. Grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet, the leaves are oblong and heavily crinkled. The fruit, favourte of the Assamese as it makes a thick sour gravy, is also the favourite of the elephant. The fruit is large and hard, surrounded by concave sepals.

Line 46 : 50 : Lines from a marriage song from the Nalbari district of Assam.

Line 49: seleng : A thin , short piece of cloth worm by both the sexes on the upper part of the body.

Line : 60 : Ahar : The Assamese month falling in the last part of June and the first part of July.

Line : 64 Saora : Streplus asper, a medium sized, dark looking tree, supposed to be the favourite haunt of the female spirit, Jakhini.

Line : 68 : ananda–bhairava : A mode (raga) of Indian Classical music rousing both enjoyment and fear.

Line : 96 : Ram , ram, ram, kham, kham, kham : ‘Seed’ mantra of some Tantric worshippers.

Line : 108 : sphota : “For the Grammarian, the word or sentence when taken as an indivisible meaning unit is the sphota… the original Greek conception of logos best conveys the meaning of sphota. ‘The fact that logos stands for an idea as well as a word wonderfully approximates to the concept of sphota.”

Line: 108 : mantra : “The symbol word, the holy sound which, transmitted to the initiate by the preceptor, make his personality vibrate in consonance and opens it up for higher experience.”

(Lana Anagarika Govinda)

Line : 127 : Indra : The king of gods in the Hindu pantheon.

The verses have been divided into five parts. There is no special significance behind this division into five. With the first part are associated two ordinary person suffering from Schizophrenia. With the second part is associated a possible schizophrenic accused of murder, and then hanged. The third part has reference to a man probably having Schizophrenia embarking on a spiritual quest. The fourth part refers to a writer who was probably suffering from mild Schizophrenia. In the fifth part appears an actor who also was probably a schizophrenic.

The identity of the last three can be revealed. They are well – known persons. The person in spiritual quest is Matsyendananth who is supposed to have migrated from Assam and was a Tantric sadhaka. His wonderful spiritual experience are also supposed to have occurred in the ancient kingdom of Kadali in Assam.

The poet referred to is the French poet Charles Baudelaire and the actor is the well – known English stage personality David Garrick. The persons associated with the first two parts are ordinary persons.

 

Lovely is our village (1)

 

The swift rustle of the sheaves of paddy breaks on the blanks of my ear drums – overhead is the splendoured mockings in the forest of Kuji thekera, Jalpai and Amara leaves.

Kite – rearer, have you measured the wavelength of the kite – mother’s wing – beats in the tunnel of the wind? Measure it and welcome the plantain – leaf emerging at the top.

The white ant hill at base of the Kotoha bamboo clump – only there lines my soul’s delight. The jackfruit – gum paste (also in the string of the spinning wheel) on the first bell – metal pitcher of our house – given in my mother’s dowry – is the companion of the prickly heat on my waist. How would you guess how much do the wet cliffs of the anthills assuaged the weight of the water of the Majdangara tank, my friend? – you, who are used to eating hot rice?

How extraordinary is our labour to tear into shreds the only sky – the joint inheritance of us all!

All the languages of the world are my inheritance.20 All the poverty. But the Muga slik moth in the month of Chot the berry in Bohag and the Amona paddy in Jeth – let them remain for ever, let not the galloping of horses and explosions of command bursting in our midsummer night’s dreams ever change them.

Glossary :

Line : 2 : Kuji thekera : A kind of acid fruit used by the Assamese, especially for their sour, thin broth (Garcinia penduculata).

Line : 2 : Amara : The hogplum, used for the some kind of sour both. (Spondias magnifera?)

Line : 2: Jalpai : The Indian olive.

Line : 5 : Kotoha bamboo : A kind of bamboo knotty, hard, full of bends, Grows rather wild and in thick clumps.

It will be useful here to give the names of the Assamese months as they might have appeared in many places. Bohag (starts from 15 April or thereabouts). Jeth, Ahar, Saon, Bhada, Ahin, Kati, Aghon, Puh, Magh, Phagun, Chot.

Line : 13:Muga : The unique golden coloured silk of Assam.

Line : 13 : Amona : A kind of paddy reddish in colour, ripens in Assam.

 

Lovely is our village (2)

 

When the bamboo piece is split with the pruning – knife, the bladder bursts in the belly of the Bahu fish. And with it the pulp of the coconut. The skin of the green bamboo for binding will not be peeled, nor will the flat splint of bamboo for the hand fan, for the sitting mat. For, the parrot wings of the bamboo ruler is my nostrils’ joy. Trembling of my eyes. Heart – balm.

Ah, such smell of the half – ripe wood – apple! Spinning round on the heel I make bright in the sand the single pice– piece given me by elder–mother. The swan of 7 Tchaikovsky. The Bildara bil The width of the pice – piece is the width of the earth and of the inch. The gold – copper is the lightning inside the heart. The crown on the head of George the fifth is discovered in the sand. When the breast of the sharp knife had marked the inches on the green – bamboo ruler – the shining – like – copper pice – piece was inside my eyes….

The roller of the hand cotton – gin sound grindingly for swaraj. How wonderful is the yellow of the wood of the jack – fruit tree! Of the inside of the wood – apple! 14 The touch of the smooth hair of the deer is acknowledged in the shake of its tail. In the chisel of what carpenter did the gimlet of the jack – fruit wood take shape to play the grinding despair of the cotton – gin inside my belly?

“Elder Mother, the creation will not be transformed if swaraj comes. The heat of the smoky fire of green bamboo will still make the earthen bits to fly off your earthen pot. Always will it remain – the lost hope of the ‘ka’ written with the kehraj19 on the plantain leaf.

“I shall become their poet from the air – conditioned20 plastic tower.” Like when the colour of the makarighila the skin of the tengamara fruit and honey are pasted in the hollow mortar! I remember that and also the sugar – cane juice boiling with waves like layers of the ou fruit. The charmed ghila is under the quit on my bed.

Ghunghuni, Selpeti, Dafa, Nakha, - nobody remembers them. With the pod of the ghila. With the spotted skin on elephants’ ears, with the maroon spot on the parched rice, they flew away in the green of the vanishing wing40 of the last green Imperial Pigeon of the earth. The last Mejankari silkworm is on the Adakari tree.

I cannot start for that bright universe with walking stick in hand. For the lord of the universe is above force of gravity. Only is sharpened sword cuts our time into pieces.

Bangalore

6-1-89

Glossary:

Line : 2 : Bahu fish: A big fish with large belly and bladder.

Line : 8 : bil : a very small lake, ‘ka’ : the first consonant of the Assamese alphabet.

Line : 19 : Kehraj : Probably, Verbesina prostrata. Its juice makes ink for village children to write on plantain leaves.

Line : 21: Makari – ghila : The seed of a large climbing wild plant. The seeds are found inside a coconut – like pod. Used by village children to play a game.

Line : 21: Tengamara : A acid fruit of beautiful blood red colour.

Line : 23 : Ou : The fruit of the Dilennia indica, with hollow sepals measuring upto ¾ inches. When the sugarcane juice is boiled, bubble of the shape of Ou sepals on the convex side emerge.

Line : 23 : Ghila : Same as makari – ghila described above but larger in size. Normally ghilas other than makari – ghila have a duller colour.

Line : 24 : Ghunghuni, Selpeti, Dafa, Nakha : These are various ways of played the ghila in a prolonged game where every part of the body is involved. In Data for instance, the ghila is to be placed on the top of the foot and then thrown with it, in Nakha the ghila is to be held between the big toe and the next toe and then thrown and so on.

Line : 25 : Mejankari : a kind of old – gold coloured silk exclusive to Assam. Now, the silkworm producing that silk may be extinct and so is the silk.

Line : 25 : Adakari : Probably Tetranthera quadrifoli. The tree smells a little ginger. Still found in Assam forest but very rarely. The Mejankari silkworm referred to above was reared on the leaves of this tree.

 

the cobra – dove

 

The cobra – dove is really for kissing

The Queen Cobra.

On her neck the bend of the Daiyang river3

Her elastic lips

Under whose lips suddenly?

An eagle!

Fierce uplifted hook of its beak

Gentle in momentary submission and affection.

When the cobra – dove put her lips under mine

I rubbed my cheeks against some black velvet roses.10

Alas ! Love, love the darikana fish of my heart’s water.11

 

Away did she go with a rustle of the nostrils

As if a transparent gust of wind had pushed on in front

the storm of the forest fire, her pride.

The ash of love letters bounced

On the death – still eyeballs of the dim – sighted star.

 

Calcutta

23-10-48

Glossary :

Line : 3 : Daiyang : A river in central Assam which appear a number of times in the love songs of the Spring festival of the Assamese – the Rangali Bihu.

Line : 11: Darikana : (Sanskrit) Dandik. A small fish celebrated in village songs.

( These poems were translated into English himself and published in Yaatra-Journal of Assamese Literature & Culture )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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